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Scrotal mass

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Male reproductive organs

The term scrotal mass means that a distinct mass can be felt within the scrotum, as opposed to a general swelling of the scrotum.

What is going on in the body? 
A variety of masses can occur in the scrotum, most of them benign or non-cancerous. Testicular cancer is always a consideration, so any new scrotal mass should be evaluated. The common kinds of masses are the:
  • sebaceous, or epidermal, cyst
  • hydrocoele
  • haematocoele
  • spermatocoele
  • testicular tumour
A sebaceous or epidermal cyst is a collection of sloughed material from the skin surface. These cysts are usually clearly within the wall of the scrotum rather than inside the scrotum. But sometimes they are deep and may appear to be another kind of mass. The cysts, sometimes called epidermal cysts, are benign. The only problem is that they may be uncomfortable or become infected.

A hydrocoele is a collection of fluid around the testicle. A hydrocoele is benign, and is important only in terms of the person's comfort.

A haematocoele is a collection of blood around the testicle. Haematocoeles are often more painful than a hydrocoele. It's important to find the underlying cause of a haematocoele.

A spermatocoele is an outpouching of tissue from the epididymis. This is the name for the soft-coiled tubes along the back of the testicle that contain sperm. Spermatocoeles are also called epididymal cysts. They are usually much smaller than hydrocoeles, and are benign. They do not need to be treated unless the person has symptoms.

A varicocoele is an enlargement, or dilation, of the veins that drain the scrotum.

Testicular tumours are another kind of scrotal mass. Testicular cancer is mainly a disease of young men, but it can occur in any age, even in children. Any solid mass within the testicle is considered malignant until proven otherwise. There are a few testicular tumours that are benign.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
Most scrotal masses, including testicular tumours, develop without symptoms. They are first noticed as painless masses. The main exception is the haematocoele, which often develops quickly after surgery or trauma. Haematocoeles can cause quite a bit of discomfort.

Large scrotal masses may create a heavy or dragging sensation. Some, such as hydrocoeles, can grow so large that the usual clothes cannot be worn.

Sudden pain with a mass in the scrotum suggests infection of the mass, or sudden bleeding into the mass.

What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
Hydrocoeles, spermatocoeles, and haematocoeles can be triggered by surgery on the groin or scrotum.

How is the condition diagnosed? 
Usually a doctor can tell which kind of scrotal mass is involved by doing a physical examination.

An epidermal cyst is not mobile, and its location within the skin of the scrotum and can be felt.

A hydrocoele is usually located in front of and above the testicle. Both hydrocoeles and spermatocoeles, which are located along the epididymis, can be transluminated. This test is done in a darkened room. A bright light is shone onto the skin of the scrotum. If the light can be seen passing through the mass, the mass is probably filled with fluid.

A haematocoele will not transilluminate because the blood is opaque.

A varicocoele feels to the doctor like a "bag of worms" when the person is standing. When the person lies down, the blood drains out of the veins and a varicocoele is no longer apparent.

A testicular tumour is usually a hard mass within the testicle that cannot be transilluminated. If there is any doubt, an ultrasound of the scrotum can be done. Ultrasound is very reliable for determining the kind of mass.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
Epidermal cysts, hydrocoeles, and spermatocoeles are benign lesions. They are important only if they bother the person because of size or pain.

Varicocoeles can cause discomfort, and are thought in some cases to have an association with infertility in men.

Haematocoeles themselves are benign. If the bleeding that causes them is not due to trauma or surgery, the cause must be found. An underlying disease, such as a testicular tumour, could be the source of the bleeding.

Solid masses in a testicle are assumed to be malignant testicular tumours until proven otherwise. These tumours can spread to other parts of the body very easily, but modern treatments provide a very high rate of cure.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Epidermal cysts, hydrocoeles, and spermatocoeles can be removed with a simple operation on the scrotum. This procedure can be done on an outpatient basis in a same day surgery centre.

Treatment of haematocoeles depends on the underlying cause and the person's symptoms. Surgery may be done for drainage, or the treatment may be conservative, with just elevation and bed rest.

Varicocoeles can be treated with surgery or other procedures to tie off the veins. Removal of the testicle and spermatic cord, or a radical orchidectomy, is the treatment for a testicular tumour.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
There are possible side effects with any surgery. These include bleeding, infection, and reactions to the drugs used to control pain. Operations on the scrotum often cause mild but nagging discomfort for several weeks afterward because the scrotum swells. This swelling is often difficult to get rid of because of the way the scrotum hangs down. It is very unusual for scrotal surgery to cause erectile dysfunction or urinary incontinence.

What happens after treatment for the condition? 
After scrotal surgery, infection or bleeding into the tissues of the scrotum is not uncommon. These problems can be managed easily, but they often cause the person to be somewhat disabled for several weeks. This is one of the main reasons that elective surgery on the scrotum is avoided unless the person has severe symptoms.

Author: Stuart Wolf, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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